Editor’s note: This article is the opinion of the author and is not to be taken as the opinion of The Banner or the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
As I read the Agenda for Synod 2022, my heart sank with a deepening sense that the Christian Reformed Church was entering a moment of unique crisis. Differing understandings of sexual chastity are tearing the CRC apart, but perhaps a realignment of the Reformed Church in America and the CRC could offset our inevitable divisions.
The Lord of the church might lead the CRC through this critical moment in a way that none of us expects or imagines possible. Yet the recent history of other denominations does not offer much encouragement. No denomination that came to this point (with a significant minority advocating change) has not eventually changed its stance, which is bad news for traditional folks. Also, no such church has made a quick transition, which is bad news for the affirming crowd. Finally, no such church has avoided a painful split, which is bad news for the peace-and-unity people. So must the CRC follow the same self-destructive path that other denominations have? Perhaps not.
Other parts of the body of Christ are struggling with the same issues, including our closest sister denomination, the RCA. At the Synod of Pella in 2014, our two denominations pledged to work together. Perhaps now is the moment to do so in a way that we didn’t imagine eight years ago.
The deepened relationship that was envisioned in 2014 came from a recognition that the issues of 1857 are no longer conflictual. Hymn singing, catechism preaching, and evening services aren’t hot topics today. But how to respond to the reality of same-sex marriage is conflictual in both denominations. The likely result is that the two denominations will become at least four. In fact, that process is well underway. The Alliance of Reformed Churches was born out of the RCA in 2021 and already has at least 66 member congregations.
What if, instead of following the “natural” course of division, we saw ourselves as part of the larger community of Reformed churches? What if we pursued a realignment within that community that recognizes not only that the issues of 1857 are no longer sufficient to keep us apart, but also that the issues of 2022, unfortunately, are not likely to be resolved in a way that can keep us together? Perhaps instead of divorce in each denomination, the CRC and RCA could creatively reunite, with affirming CRC people shifting to the RCA while some traditional RCA people become CRC. In this way old divisions are overcome, and maybe the two denominations could remain in respectful relationship with each other.
This might sound naively optimistic, and perhaps it is. Certainly this is not the best option. But perhaps this is the best possibility for a bunch of sinners like us.
About the Author
Steve Van Zanen is chair of the theology department at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania, where his colleagues are from dozens of denominations and his students come from dozens of countries.